At the beginning of his pontificate in 2013, when Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was still Secretary of State, Pope Francis handed in a resignation letter “in case of impediment due to health reasons”. Revealing this decision, which Pope Paul vi had also taken during his time, Pope Francis spoke about this matter in a wide-ranging interview granted to the Spanish daily abc .
The Pope met with the newspaper’s editor, Julián Quirós, and his Vatican correspondent, Javier Martínez-Brocal, addressing numerous topics on current events regarding the life of the Church and the world. The conversation touched on the war in Ukraine, where, the Pope said, he does not see “a short-term end to it since it is a world war”, cases of abuse by clergy, the role of women in the Roman Curia (where, he says, “within two years a woman will head a Dicastery”), Lula and Catalonia, Benedict xvi ’s 2013 resignation, and his own possible resignation.
The Pope spoke about the existence of his letter of resignation, saying, “I have already signed my resignation. It was when Tarcisio Bertone was Secretary of State. I signed the resignation and told him: ‘In case of a health impediment or whatever, here is my resignation. You have it’. I don’t know who Cardinal Bertone gave it to, but I gave it to him when he was Secretary of State”. The two abc interviewers asked if the Pope wished this to be known, and the Pope said, “that’s why I’m telling you”, recalling that Paul vi had also left his resignation in writing in the event of health issues, and Pius xii had probably done so as well. “This is the first time I am saying this”, the Pope added. “Now maybe someone will go and ask Cardinal Bertone to ‘give me that letter’ [he laughs].... surely he [Cardinal Bertone] will have given it to the new Secretary of State”. I gave it to him as Secretary of State.
War in Ukraine
The interview also focused on the ongoing war in Ukraine against which the Pope has spoken out more than a hundred times. He also stated bluntly, “What is happening in Ukraine is terrifying. There is enormous cruelty. It is very serious...”.
The Pope sees no short-term end to the war on the horizon: “This is a world war. Let us not forget that. There are already several hands involved in the war. It is global. I think a war is fought when an empire starts to weaken, and when there are weapons to use, to sell and to test. It seems to me that there are many interests involved”. The Pope has spoken out against the war more than a hundred times, saying, “I do what I can. They don’t listen”, adding, “What is happening in Ukraine is terrifying. There is enormous cruelty. It is very serious. And this is what I decry continuously”. The Pope confirmed his openness in receiving and listening to everyone: “Now Volodymyr Zelensky has sent me one of his religious advisors for the third time. I am in contact, I receive people, I help...”.
Vatican diplomacy: dialogue is its weapon
Pope Francis’ own outreach goes hand in hand with the Holy See’s diplomatic efforts. On this topic, the abc interviewers asked why the Vatican is so cautious in speaking out against totalitarian regimes like that of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua or of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela. “The Holy See always tries to safeguard peoples... through dialogue and diplomacy”, Pope Francis replied. “The Holy See never leaves of its own accord... It is kicked out. It always tries to safeguard diplomatic relations and to save what can be saved with patience and dialogue”.
Abuse cases: even just one case is horrendous
Answering a question on cases of sexual abuse by the clergy, the Pope said, “it is very painful, very painful”, when referring to his meetings with victims that have taken place during his pontificate. “These are people who have been destroyed by those who should have helped them mature and grow up. This is very difficult. Even if there were only one case, it is horrendous that a person who should lead you to God destroys you on this path”.
Role of women
The abc interview then focused on topics of a more ‘ecclesial’ nature, starting with possible leadership roles for women in the Roman Curia. “There will be”, Francis said assuredly. “I have someone in mind for a Dicastery where a position will be available in two years. There is no obstacle to a woman leading a Dicastery where a lay person can be prefect. If it is a Dicastery of a sacramental nature, it must be presided over by a priest or a bishop”, the Pope explained.
The Pope then addressed the debate over how the work of future Conclaves could be made difficult given that the new cardinals he has created do not know each other well and come from different and distant places. The Pope said it is true that there could be issues “from the human point of view”, but “it is the Holy Spirit who is at work in the conclave”. The Pope then recalled a proposal by a German cardinal during the August meetings on Praedicate Evangelium, “that only cardinals living in Rome should participate in the election of a new Pope”. The Pope then asked rhetorically, “is this the universality of the Church”?
Benedict XVI: a saint, a great man
Speaking about the relationship with his predecessor Benedict xvi , Pope Francis described him as “a saint” and “a man of great spiritual life”, revealing that he visits with him often and always feels “edified” by his transparent gaze. “He has a good sense of humour, he is lucid, very alive, he speaks softly but follows the conversation. I admire his lucidity. He is a great man”. Pope Francis, on the other hand, said he has no intention of defining the juridical status of Pope emeritus: “I have the feeling that the Holy Spirit does not have interest that I deal with these matters”.
Church in Germany
Regarding the Church in Germany, grappling with the synodal process that has generated and still generates various reactions, even negative ones, Pope Francis recalled the “very clear” letter he wrote in June 2019: “I wrote it on my own. It took me a month. It was a letter as if to say: ‘Brothers, reflect on this’”.
The Catalonia issue
During the interview conversations, the Pope mentioned that he has a journey planned to Marseilles for the ‘Mediterranean Encounter’, noting that it is not a trip to France per se and that the priority for his apostolic journeys has been to visit the smaller countries of Europe.
Asked about the issue of Catalonia, the Pope said that “each country must find its own historical path to solve these problems. There is no single solution”. He then cited the case of North Macedonia or South Tyrol, in Italy, with its own status. As for the role that the Church should maintain in this matter, he emphasised instead: “What the Church cannot do is be a propaganda voice for one side or the other, but yes to accompany the people so that they can find a definitive solution”. In the same vein, the Pope recalled that: “When a priest meddles in politics, it is not good.... The priest is a pastor. He must help people make good choices. Accompany them. But not be a politician. If you want to be a politician, leave the priesthood and become a politician”.
Rereading history with the hermeneutic of time
In response to a question about the negative rereading of the discovery of America, Pope Francis called for an interpretation of the historical event with the hermeneutic of time and not the current one. “It is obvious that people were killed there, it is obvious that there was exploitation, but Native Americans also killed each other. The atmosphere of war was not exported by the Spanish. And the conquest belonged to everyone. I make a distinction between colonizers and conquest. I don’t like to say that Spain simply “conquered”. It is as debatable as you want, but it did colonize”.
The “Lula” case
Another “paradigmatic” case brought to the attention of the Pope was that of the new President of Brazil, Inácio Lula. It is paradigmatic because trial procedures for a political leader — sentenced for passive corruption, in prison for 580 days, prevented from presenting himself as a candidate for the 2018 presidential elections, until 2021 when the Supreme Court annulled all the sentences — began as “fake news”, which the Pope said, “created an atmosphere that facilitated his trial…. The problem of fake news regarding political and social leaders is very serious. They can destroy a person”. In the specific case of Lula, according to Pope Francis, it was not a trial that was up to standards”. “Beware of those who create an atmosphere around a trial, whichever one it may be. They do this through the media so as to influence those who have to judge and decide. A trial must be as clean as possible, with first class tribunals that have no other interest than to keep justice clean”.
Motu Proprio on Opus Dei
In conclusion, when asked about last July’s Motu Proprio Ad Charisma tuendum on Opus Dei, the Pope said that the document addressed an area that needed to be redefined and resolved. It was not a disciplinary measure or takeover, as some have claimed. “Please. I am a great friend of Opus Dei, I love the people of Opus Dei very much and they work well in the Church. The good they do is very great”.
By Salvatore Cernuzio